as a Symbol
The tiger is a fascinating creature.
In many cultures the tiger is a symbol of the warrior because it calls up an image of power and savagery.
It does not have the dignity of the lion, but is rather a perfidious despot who does not know mercy.
It is said that if you see a tiger in your dreams it means that you feel threatened by your own powerful animal instincts.
Sometimes you see the tiger fighting with animals from a lower class, for example with reptiles. In this case the tiger is the top ranking animal in one’s mind, in contrast to cases where it is fighting against an eagle or a lion. In the latter case it merely symbolises the angry instinct which seeks satisfaction in its fight against every superior prohibition.
The meaning of the symbols is always different depending on the creatures in the respective conflict situations.
The tiger has a sly nature. It is not blind as is a bull’s nature. The tiger is more savage than the wild dog, even though the dog is just as badly adjusted as the tiger.
The tiger’s instinct shows in its most aggressive form because the instincts go right back to the primeval forests.
The tiger’s instincts symbolise extreme inhumanity.
Tiger 146x114 cm 1997. oil and raw pigment on canvas
Close to where I live there is an ochre pit which has been famous from olden times for its rich seams of ochre – a material whose use as a colour pigment goes right back to the Ice Age cave paintings in the south of France and north of Spain.
I am always inspired by ochre in my painting. The strong sunlight which falls on the yellow or reddish-yellow slopes makes them light up so one imagines that they consist of cadmium yellow or orange. The slopes make a vivid contrast to the cerulean blue of the sky. Dark green pine trees grow all over the ochre pits, and they are covered in a fine layer of ochre dust which is whirled up constantly by the wind, so that the natural colourings of the vegetation are almost lost.
But first and foremost it is the richness of nuances in the ochre material itself that makes such a strong impression. I have found at least 15 different yellow and red nuances.
One day I found a specially shining yellow colour and as there was enough of it, I decided to use it to plaster the walls of the house with.
I got hold of a shovel and drove my estate car into the ochre pits. Here I shovelled as much of the ochre as possible into the car and started the trip home. However I hadn’t got very far before the car gave out a scrunching noise and dropped down on its springs.
At my next trip to the mechanic I was told that the rear shock absorbers were completely shot – “You must have been carrying something very heavy,” he said.
In future I will only collect enough ochre for my painting.
Tiger. 114x146 cm. 1997. Oil and raw pigment on canvas.
Madness can be a wild tiger.
Art is a form of madness because there are so many risks in connection with artistic observations. The transgressions of normal limits which every artistic process presupposes can be fateful.
The costs are great. Sometimes it is a matter of life or death.
An artist who outlives himself can control his madness. Controlled madness is the true badge of an artist.
Through controlled madness the artist reaches the targets he aspires to.
Madness can be a wild tiger which must not be killed. One must make do with identifying it, hunting it, forcing it up in to a corner and harnessing it to one’s feelings and imagination.
A wild tiger must be tamed.
The tamed tiger will lead the artist much further forward than any school, teacher, drug or religion will be able to.
But as with every source of strength and development, there is a risk in playing with one’s own savagery. Sometimes when the identification and the hunt go too fast, the process disintegrates and the tamed tiger turns on the artist with its atavistic savagery.
can be a wild Tiger. 146x114 cm. 1997.
What has a wild tiger got to do with Bach’s music?
Today I am painting a large yellow tiger. The light is good so the brushes are flying. It may have something to do with the music I am listening to: Bach’s Suites for Cello, nos 1, 4 & 5 with Rostropovich. I think with the same strokes as he does when I paint my picture. Powerful and violent strokes. With thick gritty lines. It goes in time with the music. The rhythm keeps its own time. The sound is Bach at his best.
What does a tiger have to do with Bach’s music?
Bach is said to have had such a temperament, that people who knew him could relate how they could see a hungry tiger in his eyes when he was composing. A tiger that would break all bounds. It consumed everything it saw, heard and felt.
In the middle of all that music you could smell raw flesh.
What has a tiger got to do with
One of the most important things for my painting is the paint.
I make my own paints out of the purest pigments you can get, mixed with a medium on the basis of linseed oil, which has taken me years to develop and perfect. It is a family secret.
I take the classical colours as my starting point.
Cadmium lemon yellow
Cadmium medium yellow
Chrome Oxide green
When one uses the classic colour pigments, each pigment has its own inherent potential or character. One can discover in the pigments the potentialities which suit one’s own temperament. The multiplicity is legion.
For example when one paints natural ochre into a white, a gold echo comes into being and an intimate sensuality, which can remind one of a tiger’s skin when the sun shines on it.
It is quite safe to say that most paint colours die a little when they are pre-mixed on the palette. The best thing to do is undoubtedly to mix them directly on the canvas.
Mongolian tiger. 114x146 cm. 1997. Oil and raw pigment on canvas.
Elements of Consciousness
I have just put the finishing touches to a front page for the new Corner catalogue for 1997. My first thought was to use a painting on the cover but I thought that the catalogue was almost like a book, an independent entity, which ought to have its own distinctive life. Therefore I chose to make an autonomous cover for the catalogue.
It’s quite a challenge to make a cover for Corner. The Association is an old group with a rich tradition. It stands for Danish painting dating back to Eckersberg, Købke, Philipsen, Weie and Hartz.
All of these are painters to whom I am greatly indebted, as I have studied their paintings for the last 30 years.
Quite by chance I found a lucky-dip in Vejle, which was full of old catalogues from Corner from the last 20 years. That was lucky. The covers gave me an idea of what Corner stood for. The sum total of these covers have resided in the back of my mind ever since.
I started by drawing several sketches. Threw them away and arrived at the final idea, a motif which I immediately caught on to. A motif that shows tradition and innovation, elements of consciousness for a backward look and a look into the future.
A tiger motif in more ways than one.
A tiger looking at its reflection.
40 kilometres south of our village lies the town of Nîmes. It is famous for its Roman buildings, amongst others the great Arena which was erected around year 3. It was used by the Romans for fights between slaves and lions or bulls to entertain the masses.
Today it is used for bull fighting. It is a tradition which is hotly debated, but to experience such a bullfight is a great pleasure for me. The drama between the toreador and the bull is like a ballet of Diaghilev.
It is a serious matter. For what might happen when the bullfighter has an off day, when his steps falter. He gets to feel it on his body.
During a fight, time stands still.
After a day in which 6 bulls have been dragged out dead, many ask: So what?
I know what. For I buy some marvellous steaks of that meat several days later at the market. One can always see which butcher has these steaks. They display the bull’s severed head above the pieces of meat together with the rosettes.
I cut the meat into small pieces and put them into a clay pot with some garlic and a handful wild thyme and bay leaves.
I pour a litre of red wine into the pot and the meal simmers for at least 5 hours over an oak fire in my fireplace.
Oak gives the best taste to the meat.
After such a meal I like to sit and enjoy myself, hoping that the meat will give me the universal powers of the animal, so that I can ply my brushes with the same precision and strength that the bullfighter swings his sword.
Tiger sun. 114x146 cm. 1997. Oil and raw pigment on canvas.
My car still smells of pig.
Our village lies in an area where there are forests of evergreen oaks and box. They don’t grow very tall, 2-3 metres at most. The area is as big as Zealand with small villages here and there. They are obviously quite isolated. In the area there are many wild boars, foxes, pheasants and birds of prey. Here they live safe and sound. It is easy to hide. There is peace and quiet.
Sometimes there are many hunters in the area. Especially the wild boars attract their interest. The locals say, “If you run over a wild boar, then it’s a problem, not for the boar but for the driver.”
I know this by bitter experience.My car still smells of pig.
One night I was driving through an isolated area to get home. Quietly and peacefully. But suddenly while I was driving I saw in the headlights that there was a flock of wild boar by the side of the road. At the same moment the great flock leader started to cross the road towards the car at an enormous speed. It all happened so fast that it was impossible to brake or avoid the impact. Then the unavoidable happened. I thundered into this belligerent monster. Its head with the small shining eyes and corner teeth are etched into my memory. But luckily I only hit its rear, which flew up over the radiator and down along the side of the car. The boar was so big that its back was higher than our radiator. The whole of the car’s radiator was crumpled up. Everything happened so suddenly as in an image which had passed the retina in a series of impressions without a conscious reference.
I was paralysed by the situation.
While the boar got up and ran into the forest with the rest of the family, I still sat behind the windscreen in my car with a fervent wish that I could paint myself out of this picture.
Le grand tigre rouge/The big red
Raw and Bitter
Have just been out to pick mushrooms, which are to be enjoyed with a good glass of claret. They will be roasted with garlic. Hunting for mushrooms is like painting, a process. It takes place in the back of the mind, where all one’s senses are co-ordinated. You should be able to dissect a mushroom in the same way that one dissects a picture, seek into its flesh. Eating mushrooms is like painting a picture. There is something raw and bitter about it. It has something to do with the smell, the experience. You are close to nature, a part of it. You recognise each other by one’s mutual respect. Know where the dangers lurk. Just as with the tiger picture, which glares at a wrong brush stroke with terrible eyes. It warns you, even though it has only reached my inner sight.
Otherwise it is better to stick with the walnuts and chestnuts.
There are enough of them.
But they are not as interesting as the mushrooms and need no previous knowledge.
Tiger close up. 146x114 cm. 1997. Oil and raw pigment on canvas.
Focus of Attention
I live in a village which functions for part of the year as a collection point for sheep. More than ten thousand sheep arrive at the place in great lorries. The lorries have several storeys so there can be quite a lot of sheep in them. The columns of lorries always arrive in the autumn after the sheep have been up in the mountains to graze. After arriving they are divided up into smaller flocks which go round the countryside, driven by a shepherd and 4-5 dogs, which are unbelievably good at defending their flock against attack from strange dogs, foxes and thieves. The dogs keep the flocks together, too.
Sheep are exposed to many dangers, animals of prey are not limited to one place. They are everywhere, disguised or not so disguised. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. You can recognise them by their instincts. by their ruthlessness. Here and now. By their mode of attack.
My own dog once ran off to chase sheep. It came home covered in blood to be met with a face expressing surprise and worry. I thought I knew the dog. But nature has its own cycle. Even though a dog can be calm and disciplined, a role model for other dogs, it has its aspects, just as other species have theirs. Its behaviour can seem unpredictable and intangible. My eyes seek out this focus when the schism between nature and culture has to stand its test.
Mediterranean Tiger. 114x146 cm. 1997. Oil and raw pigment on canvas.
At the moment I am working on a tiger’s head. It snarls and spits at one. With its jaws open. It is making a signal.
It has its eyes closed.
But there is also a smile, even though it is ambiguous.
An ambiguity reflects the tiger’s character.
Once I was visited in my studio by one of my friends, a French psychiatrist. No just any psychiatrist. He is among other things a great admirer of Jean Dubuffet’s art. He looked at my animal pictures amicably. After a while he looked at me and said, “Uffe, you don’t paint animals at all. Has nobody ever told you that you have been painting human beings?”
Maybe he is right in that I search to find the balance between the presence and the absence of various characteristics.
Nuit Blanche/White Night
The Mistrale and the Winter Light
The light in the afternoon is by far the best in my studio. Especially in winter when the sun starts to be lower in the sky.
The studio has some side windows towards the south, where the sun comes in and illuminates the floor and the white walls. Facing north I have a large glass door 3 metres tall and 2 metres wide. This means that there is constant light all day, but the afternoon sun is however far preferable.
Denmark and Fontareches are complete contrasts in the winter. In Denmark it is often grey and black. It is a bad light to paint in.
But in the South of France the cold Mistral wind comes sometimes and blows all the clouds away and gives the sun the opportunity to show itself from its best side and shine with a richness which never hides. A richness of air, space and feeling.
It blows a couple of times a month for a couple of days with sounds and colours which create the space and light which Van Gogh took so much advantage of.
The light becomes a little bit hysterical.
In the winter it becomes even stronger.
And even more hysterical.
But it is uplifting and inspiring at the same time.
You can see the essentials through it and reflect one’s intentions and thoughts in its glow.
The Mistral and the Winter Light.
A fugue for Several Voices
Painting with water colours is marvellous.
The secret to all water colour techniques is getting the colours to light up by allowing the paper to shine through them. If you mix white with water colours, the colours become ‘floury’. If you shut out the paper with a covering of paint, it is all over with the timbre of the colours.
Therefore I find it challenging to paint a tiger lying by a water hole. The animal makes a reflection of itself in the water – this element which is identical with the water colours I am using. I often use the water to allow the colours to flow over the paper and into each other in new combinations in an attempt to give the picture an impression of contrasts between hard and soft transitions.
A fugue for several voices.
Rats in the basement
I live in an old French farmhouse. It is at least 600 sq. metres. The house has three storeys. The top floor is living quarters. The bottom one, the cellar, consists of rooms with vaulted ceilings intended for animals.
I don’t have any sheep or goats. But in the rooms I keep hay for my horse and vegetables/oats for the rest of the family.
Once when we got a load of hay in the summer it was good and dry. Everything was idyllic.
But when the autumn approached, we discovered that the load of hay had been full of rats. Lots of rats. Big rats.
The lower storey of the house had become an eldorado for rats. For there was food enough. My family had expanded. It was quite a task to go down to fetch oats or potatoes while it teemed with big squeaking brown rats, which ran up the panelling and into the nooks and crannies there are in thick walls consisting of stones from the fields.
The sound of scraping claws inside the walls was terrible because the rats were able to climb up inside the walls in the whole house, so that you could hear them everywhere. However they could not get into the living rooms. Whether it was due to discretion or weakness I cannot be sure. But I felt that I was living in a rats’ nest. The noise was bad enough.
The first thing I did was remove all the food from the lower storey and take the hay out into the fields. I still remember the feeling of having six bales of hay in the car, knowing that they contained rats’ nests and rats. I could feel their beady eyes on the back of my neck while I drove out.
Rat traps and poison were laid out. A week later there was peace and quiet again. Almost. For of course I had forgotten one red cabbage. I could see that something was still gnawing at it. I caught sight of the miscreant – a giant rat. I think we stared at each other for five minutes before I reacted.
Blue Tiger. 114x146 cm. 1997. Oil and raw pigment on canvas.
I quickly got hold of a trap, put cheese in the trap next to the red cabbage. I could see that it went on eating the red cabbage. The cheese hadn’t been touched.
I put some cheese next to the trap – the cheese disappeared the next day. I put a large red cabbage out. Some serious gnawing was done.
It ate and ate.
All the while the trap remained untouched nearby. The rat was meant to get used to it. I put some chopped cabbage in another trap until it was completely covered. The rat ate some of the cabbage every day.
But gradually there was less and less cabbage. Finally it was all gone. Three days went by. The trap was set up again with a piece of red cabbage in it. The next day a rat was in the trap.
But to this day I have the feeling that it had cheated me. It had lured one of its cousins into the trap. Because I can still see it, smell it and hear it in my mind.
It still stares at me challenging me all the time.
La Bête du
The wolf has always been a symbol. Here in Europe it has amongst other things been a symbol of fertility. Who doesn’t know the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf? When you analyse this story closer, it turns out that the story is about the little girl changing into a woman, helped on her way by the wolf. I don’t only mean the version by Perrault from the end of the 17th century, which is the best known, but also the old legends from before that time. The oral traditions. These are often more grim than the story we already know, and describes in great detail how the wolf butchers the grandmother like a pig and how Little Red Riding Hood makes a stew of her blood.
About 30 kilometres from where I live the mountainous area of the Cevennes starts, and in these mountains there is a wolf enclosure, where the animals live in semi-freedom in 5 hectares of land. But there is an adjoining area of about 250 hectares which is quite isolated and wild countryside.
One Halloween I visited this enclosure. It took me nearly four hours to drive up there because of the narrow and windy roads. The wolves’ enclosure adjoins a valley called le Val d’Enfer. The Vale of Hell. The valley is quite unique with big sharp cliffs, gnarled old trees, foggy atmosphere and a 3 metre wide road which winds up and up over an abyss several hundred metres deep.
The mood is pure Edgar Allen Poe.
Thus one enters the wolves’ enclosure.
The following story is told about this very area:
At the beginning of 1764 some young cattle farmers reported that a large dog had attacked them several times, but their cows and oxen had protected them.
Metamorphosis. 114x146 cm. 1997. Oil and raw pigment on canvas.
This would not have amounted to much, if the remains of a 14 year old girl, who had been devoured, had not turned up.
This was the start of a story which lasted 3 years.
By December 1764 there were 18 dead.
A hunt was organised.
In January 1765 the king, the bishop and the département promise a reward of 800 pounds to be rid of the nuisance.
January: 11 victims.
February: 6 victims.
A huntsman was sent to the area by the king. The huntsman had previously killed 1200 wolves. He is an experienced man. No result.
Death has a field day.
Another huntsman was sent out. He finds that the tracks around the victims’ bodies are inexplicable.The rumours run wild. Is it hyenas? An animal from a fable? A mixture of a wolf and a bear? A monster escaped from a circus? A divine punishment, an instrument of the devil? A sadist or a werewolf?
All kinds of traps had failed. The bishop asks the people to pray.
The hunt starts with hounds trained in hunting wolves. A large pack of wolves is wiped out. The attacks stop. But it has meant 57 victims in 9 months, mostly quite young people.
But a couple of months later two more children were killed in the same area, and the killings continue.
La Bête du Gevaudan. 114x146 cm. 1997. Oil and raw pigment on canvas.
A new huntsman arrives with his rifle, blessed by the church. He has lead bullets made out of Virgin Mary’s medallions. A large animal like a wolf is shot. A very strange wolf.
And the killings stop.
In 3 years 99 people were killed.
Already when the first victims were discovered, the rumours began to fly.
It is easy to understand that there are different opinions today about whether it is a good or bad thing for wolves to be reintroduced into France in the wild. It is known that there is a wild pack living near the Italian border. They are protected, but many people especially cattle and sheep farmers think they ought to be eradicated.
As I keep a dog myself, I know all about a dog’s instincts. But when one approaches wolves, you soon discover the difference. The wolf’s behaviour is three times as obvious as the dog’s. The wolf pack has a stricter ranking order. Only the leaders may procreate. Only the strongest survive. The yellow eyes of the wolf look right through you. You feel an atavistic power and understand how rumours about wolves come about. You feel the attraction of the savage beast and feel a connection with one’s forefathers.
I start to understand why, 30 kilometres from where I live, there were people who painted wolves, tigers, bears and bison with earth colours in large chalk caves, - cave paintings painted about 15,000 years ago.
It was a necessity to survive.
Their powers had to be exorcised.
The strong had to survive.
You had to survive yourself.
This book was published on the occasion of my 50th birthday in 1997.
It was not my intention to illustrate the text as I consider this superfluous.
I would like to thank my wife, the painter Annette Hoff-Jessen, my daughter, the student actor Anna Christoffersen, and my brother the lawyer Thor stadil, as well as Leif Dalgaard. With their help they have all been indispensable to me in the completion of this book.
English translations by
Uffe Christoffersen in his atelier